The Travels of Phil #6 and #7: My triumphant return(s) to Gillingham!

Part 1

These days, I don’t get to see many Forest matches (not that I ever did, but that’s beside the point). And, in the name of irony (and terribly overused cliches), like London buses, I wait for ages, and then two come along at once. Having not been to see Forest in the flesh since their 3-1 defeat to Colchester back in early January, they were due to play Gillingham on Saturday, 14th October at Priestfield Stadium.

As this was probably the only opportunity I would have to see them this season, I begged the afternoon off work (which then meant I had to start at 6am in order to do as many of my contracted hours as possible!), and made my way by train to Gillingham, where I met up with Dan and Dave. My train journey consisted of going from Ashford to Canterbury West, whereupon I had to cross Canterbury and catch a train from Canterbury East to Gillingham. I had no idea how long it would take me to walk from one station to the other, and with only half an hour between trains, the clock was ticking! In the end, it took me just over quarter of an hour to get from one to the other, with the help of some kind motorists, who let me cross the road near one of the busy roundabouts when it looked like I would be stuck there for the rest of the afternoon waiting for a break in the traffic.

On the train to Gillingham, a couple of elderly Gills fans sat next to me and started discussing the imminent game. I didn’t join in lest they ask me who I was supporting, and honesty obliged me to say Forest. With the recent history of hostility between the two sets of fans, I did not wish to suffer the indignity of being beaten to a pulp by a pair of pensioners as a hoard of north Kent chavs egged them on.

Upon exiting the station, I walked to the ground, and waited for the other two (who, as I expected, were a little late – there’s virtually nowhere to park around Priestfield). They turned up at about 2.45pm and we wandered into the ground, where I got my grubby mitts on one of the last few programmes, much to the jealousy of some of those less fortunate/speedy in their programme aquisition than me.

Finding our seats (in the upper tier – the first time I’ve been so high on Gillingham’s deluxe scaffolding stand), we sat down and enjoyed the dregs of the October sunshine. The game kicked off, and, as has been the case for the last few seasons, the match wasn’t much of a spectacle. Junior Agogo, Forest’s recent signing from Bristol Rovers, went close, lofting the ball just wide when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. With Neil Harris also going close a couple of times in a goalless first half, it looked like being one of those days where Forest dominate and yet went home with little to show for it. Gilligham had only one chance of note in the first half, with Matt Jarvis drawing a brilliant one-handed save from Paul Smith (who was impressive throughout the match) after a rapid Gillingham counter-attack.

The second half started with the game following much the same pattern. However, not long into the second period, Junior Agogo wriggled away from two defenders, found Kris Commons in space, and his low cross was slotted in at the back post by ex-Gillingham player Nicky Southall, who declined to celebrate as a mark of respect and affection for his former club.

Gillingham seemed bereft of ideas, and only came close to equalising in the very late stages of the second half when their left back, Clint Easton sent a dipping volley just over the bar from quite a distance, and they forced a series of corners, all of which were comfortable dealt with by Paul Smith and the solid looking Forest defence. The final whistle blew with the score at 1-0 to Forest, and we went home happy if not wildly impressed by the efficient performance Forest had given.

Part 2

The second part of my triumphant returns to Gillingham came only three days later, as Forest faced the same opponents at the same ground in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (it remains to be seen what the actual trophy is, despite the photos of Tim Lovejoy with a large piece of silverware – my money’s on a year’s supply of emulsion in the colours of the winning team).

This time, I caught the train from Colchester, skipping a statistics lecture in order to make sure I got to Gillingham in time. The signs weren’t promising, with reports that the official coach service from Nottingham being cancelled after less than a dozen people declared interest in using the service. I had the worrying feeling that I would be the only one there representing Forest. However, it was not the case. In total, 1500 people turned up on a drizzly Tuesday night, with a couple of hundred of those travelling from Nottingham (and Germany in the case of Forest’s #1 fan, Ebbe), and one from Colchester! This time I paid on the gate, and it cost me more than it had to see them on Saturday (£15 compared to £9, mostly due to the fact that with so little interest in the match, Gillingham couldn’t be bothered to arrange a pricing structure any more complex than: Child, Adult, Concession). This was the first time I’d paid at the turnstile to see Forest play in a competitive match (I bet you didn’t know that, and that you feel your life is enhanced in some way now that you do know it!).

The game itself was a little more interesting than the previous match. With less at stake, Colin Calderwood rested as many players as he could (within the limits set for the competition, which state that six of the eleven players who have appeared in the most matches so far this season must start the game), which gave the Forest team a youthful look, with Robert Hughes, a young midfielder, making his full debut.

Forest took an early lead after a short corner routine (which had clearly been worked on in training) resulted in Kris Commons whipping in a low cross, and Jack Lester getting the faintest of touches to claim his third goal of the season. The score remained the same until half time, despite Forest having the better of the game, and a remarkable ‘did-I-really-see-that?’ moment, in which Wes Morgan (a hulking centre-back, built like a fridge, for those of you unfamiliar with Wes) brought the ball down wide on the left, flicked it past one defender, cut back inside, and lofted in a fantastic cross which the onrushing James Perch nodded over.

Ten minutes after half-time, Forest added a second as Grant Holt netted from Perch’s pass after the ball had been half-cleared by the Gillingham defence. The match was as good as won, and the team seemed to think so too. However, 20 minutes after Forest’s second, Gillingham got a goal back through a rare attack. A corner played to the near post was flicked in by Gary Mulligan, and the nerves started (fo me anyway). Gillingham, spurred on by this goal (how easily excited they are!), mounted a spell of considerable pressure, and it took an impressive stop from Forest’s reserve goalkeeper, Rune Pedersen, to prevent them from equalising. As the game entered the last few miutes, Forest nearly added a third, first when a shot from 17-year-old debutant Lewis McGugan was blocked on the line, then when a Neil Harris cross/shot skimmed the outside of the post, and finally when Sammy Clingan broke free only to screw his shot high and wide from twelve yards with only the keeper to beat. 2-1 tuned out to be enough, and Forest returned home from Gillingam with a win for the second time in four days.

The journey home was a little long, taking the best part of three hours, including a 35 minute walk from the train station at 12.30 in the morning, and I got rained on as I walked, but it was worth all the time and money! It’s not often I’ve been able to see Forest win in the last couple of years, and so to see it happen twice in a week is a unique experience for me. Yay!

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